Buckeye State Teachers Kick Out STRS Chairman

May 11, 2004 (PLANSPONSOR.com) - The 2003 scandal at the Ohio State Teachers Retirement System (STRS) over lavish spending has claimed yet another victim.

Ohioteachers voted to oust STRS chairman Eugene Norris and threw their support behind John Lazares, superintendent of the Warren County Educational Service Center, by a 22,625 to 22,351 margin, according to the Cleveland Plain Dealer. The vote among teachers, professors and other members of the retirement system was done by mail. Lazares will begin a four-year term in September.

The vote was a big victory for disgruntled retirees, who supported Lazares, even though they could not vote in the election. At the same time, it was a blow to the state teachers unions, which supported Norris.

Norris, a teacher in South-Western City Schools in suburban Columbus, has served on the board since 1996. He took over as chairman in September.

The pension fund, which serves more than 400,000 active and retired teachers, was wracked by scandal last year after it was revealed that the fund had granted generous employee bonuses, allowed frequent board member travel and purchased   expensive artwork at the pension fund’s headquarters (See  Buckeye State Fund Tightens its Belt ).

The revelations came as many retirees learned that their health insurance premiums would soon double, in part because of the fund’s investment losses.

Since then, Herb Dyer was forced to resign as executive director – with a $550,000 buyout (See Dyer Steps Down From Ohio STRS Post ). Also, the board enacted new travel, ethics and employee bonus policies, and the Ohio House and Senate approved competing bills to increase oversight. Lawmakers are working on a compromise (See  Ohio Lawmakers Close to Pension Reform Compromise ).